100_4869 We got him when he was nine months old. He had been destined to be a wonderful show dog, being the grandson of a proud Champion Golden Retriever, King of All the Dogs or something like that.

He was ready, too, to meet the bright lights and the big cities. But then x-rays showed that he had a very slight hip dysplasia–just enough to keep him out of competitions, but not enough to keep him from being an enthusiastic ball-chaser.

His breeder said he needed a family, and we were a family in need of a dog–and so we joined forces, and he proceeded to clown his way into our cat-loving hearts. We named him Jordan. Some days he was like a big Muppet, and other days he played the role of the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. He wagged us and licked us and knocked us over, brought us endless dirty Kleenexes out of the trash, did ceremonial barking when the doorbell rang, sat by our sides when we were sick, stole treats, cheered for the Chicago Cubs with us, romped with us on hikes through the snow, sat next to me through the writing of six books even though he was always thinking that it was time to stop for the day and go play…everything you could ask of a companion.

But, somehow when we weren’t truly paying attention, he got old. Really, really old. And yesterday, at the age of 13 1/2, after going outside with me to take out the garbage (and experimentally pretending he just might like to rip open the bags and strew the garbage all over the driveway, which has been so much fun for him in the past), he dutifully wagged his tail and followed me inside when I called him. He was sleeping in the sunshine when I left the house…and when I returned two hours later, things were not at all the same.

He’d been sick all through the house and he was lying down in the sunshine, looking dazed. I petted him and he tried to stand, but his head was tilted at a funny angle, and he couldn’t even get to his feet. We sat there together for a while, and I petted his muzzle, which is what he wanted. He kept licking my hand whenever I would stop, and trying to look at me. But he could barely hold his head up.

He feels the same way about hospitals that I do, but it seemed clear that we were going to have to go to one. So my husband came home from work, and lifted all 75 pounds of him up and we drove him to the vet, a wonderfully compassionate man who came into the room, saying, “Oh, no! What has happened to our friend Jordie?” He examined him and then explained that he’d had a “vestibular event,” whatever that is. It’s very common in old dogs, apparently, and it is one of those terms that simply means that something has gone terribly wrong. He’s come unbalanced and now he’s nauseated and unable to stand up, because the world has taken to spinning around in front of him.

“Some dogs recover from this and some don’t,” the vet said. It’s harder, of course, to predict what will happen when a dog is so old. But meanwhile, he said, Jordie shouldn’t come back home; he needed to be given drugs for nausea, and to be kept in a quiet, dark place, where the pain of the light and the spinning of the room wouldn’t make him worse. He promised that a legion of dog-lovers would wait on him hand and foot and pet him and keep him warm and comfortable…and then two attendants came in and put him on a stretcher, and he looked over and licked my hand as they took him away.

Today the vet called and said he was a tiny bit better this morning, but that he still couldn’t stand up and couldn’t walk without being supported by two people. His head was still so tilted to the side that he couldn’t eat out of his dish, but he would eat when people hand-fed him. He mostly slept all day.

So I went to visit him.

I guess I expected that he would be lethargic, and that I would sit by his crate and pat him while he slept. I would be very sad, but I would know it was the end of his long and happy life; I would be sad but at least I would see that he was peaceful and calm.

Oh, but it was far worse than that. In fact, he was so happy to see me that he kept trying to stand up, but then he would fall down again. When I opened the crate door, he leaned way over and kept licking my hand and wagging his tail. He tried to slide out the door of the crate and nudge the two of us over to the door. You could just see he was thinking, “Let’s make a run for it. Come on, there’s a door right there, and we’ll be out of here before they even know we’ve gone!”

But no. He cannot come home. They want to keep him for a few more days and see what happens. He can’t walk, he can’t climb stairs (of which we have many). He can’t eat or hold down food. Maybe he’ll get better, the vet said today, but chances are this will only happen again. In a few days or a week, or at best, in a few months. He probably won’t ever be able to do the stairs anymore. Or roam alone outside, like he loves to do. And when there snow and ice outside, how will he manage to keep from slipping–a dog who is too heavy to be lifted and carried around?

I stayed for an hour, and then I tucked his paws back inside the crate and swung the door closed and latched it. He slumped against the side when I turned off the light and left.

It is such a sad night here, with all these questions. I want to be philosophical about it all, to let him go if that’s what needs to happen, not to ask him to remain here to suffer the indignities of so many limitations. 

But there he was, wagging and licking. Wanting just to go home one more time, so sure he can tackle one more garbage bag and bound up and down the stairs just the way he could do yesterday morning when everything was right with the world.